“If you walked away from a toxic, negative, abusive, one-sided, dead-end low vibrational relationship or friendship—you won.” ~Lalah Delia
Healthy relationships involve respect, trust, and consideration for each other. Relationships where abuse is present, on the other hand, involve mistreatment, disrespect, intense jealousy, controlling behavior, and/or physical violence. I tend to focus more on building healthy relationships in my blog posts, but after attending a recent training, I realized I cannot ignore a topic that so many readers can relate to. While Hollywood is depicting the vast majority of relationships as happy and fulfilling, more than 12 million American women and men experience some type of abuse in their relationship over the course of a year. Relationships where abuse is present, unfortunately, are NOT uncommon. I hope this post is not only informative for my readers that may find themselves in a relationship where any kind of abuse is present, but also motivational for them to speak up.
What types of relationship abuse are there?
Abuse is the misusing or regularly/repeatedly treating someone with cruelty or violence. While that definition is straightforward enough, there are many types of abuse that need to be discussed when defining abuse.
There is physical abuse (any form of violence, such as hitting, punching, pulling hair, and kicking).
There is emotional or psychological abuse (threatening the physical health of the victim or the victim’s loved ones, purposely controlling the victim’s freedom, and/or acting to undermine or isolate the victim, intimidation, gaslighting, putdowns, controlling behavior, and betrayal).
There is sexual abuse (being forced into any sort of sexual activity).
There is verbal abuse (yelling, put-downs, name-calling, making threats, constantly correcting or interrupting a person, and even employing the silent treatment).
There is spiritual abuse (also known as religious abuse; a form of controlling a person under the guise of religion or the misuse of religion for selfish or secular ends).
Basically, abuse is about domination and submission; it is about giving and withholding in the extreme. In a relationship where abuse is present, a form (or multiple forms!) of abuse is (are) employed by one partner to maintain power and control over the other partner in an intimate relationship. The feelings of love, loyalty, and devotion in the relationship make it difficult to recognize reality, break the cycle, and get help.
Who can be in an relationship with abuse?
Anyone can be a victim to a relationship where abuse is present. No matter the race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender, anyone can be a victim (or perpetrator!). It can happen to people who are married, living together or who are dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.
What causes abuse in relationships?
In relationships where abuse is present, often the offender has low self-worth, or has a history of abuse in their family-of-origin and thus feels powerless. Because of this, they use behaviors, such as threats, violence, and mind games to gain a sense of power and control over their partner. The following infographic from the National Domestic Violence Hotline outlines and gives specific examples of abuse in relationships. Regardless of where you start reading on the wheel, everything comes back to the center, the true motive for any kind of abuse: power and control.
What are the signs of relationships with abuse?
As previously mentioned, relationships with abuse are not limited to physical violence. Here are some warning signs to be aware of for any type of relationship where abuse is present:
- Trying to control where you go/who you see/what you say.
- Demanding to know where you are every minute.
- Accusing you of being unfaithful or of flirting.
- Isolating you from family and friends, often by behaving rudely to them.
- Constantly comparing you unfavourably to others.
- Deliberately breaking things you value.
- Threatening to use violence against you, your family, friends or pets.
- Harming you physically.
- Forcing you into unwanted sexual encounters.
- Punishing you by withholding affection.
- Insulting, demeaning, criticizing, or shaming you with put-downs.
- Controlling every penny spent.
- Preventing you from making your own decisions.
- Refusing to trust you and acting jealous or possessive.
- Telling you that you are a bad parent; threatening to harm or take away your children.
- Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons.
- Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol.
- Making everything your fault (gaslighting)
- Controlling your appearance: your clothes, how much/little makeup you wear, etc.
- Using sarcasm and unpleasant tone of voice.
- Saying things like “I love you but…” or, “If you don’t _____, I will_____.”
It is common for someone who is being abused to believe that the abuse he/she is experiencing is his/her own fault and that the abuse is somehow deserved. This is a form of abuse itself and could not be farther from the truth! If you walk away with nothing else from this article, I hope that you know that you are never to blame for the abuse!
Being a victim of any type of abuse in a relationship is traumatizing. It can cause anxiety, lowered levels of self-esteem, diminished self-worth, distrust or difficulty connecting with others, and–in severe cases–post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Getting out of and moving on from a relationship where abuse is present will require a steady support system of family, friends, and often a support group. In many cases, the victim needs drugs an advocate–someone to give them a voice in order to break free from the toxic relationship. That is where I come in; I am an experienced, licensed therapist who has seen multiple couples and individuals work through relationships with abuse. I can help. If you are concerned that you may be a victim of a relationship where abuse is present, please do not hesitate to contact me with questions or to schedule a session. My door is always open and I am here to help.
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.
- The Blue Ribbon Project: “Signs of Emotional Abuse – 5 Signs You’re Encountering Emotional Abuse”
- Cluff Counseling: “Are You are Secondary Survivor?”
- Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
- Cluff Counseling: “Life After Trauma”
- Cluff Counseling: “Reliving the Horrors: PTSD”
- Cluff Counseling: “Strength in Numbers: Support Groups”
- Healthy Place: “Psychological Abuse: Definition, Signs and Symptoms”
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: “Get the Facts and Figures”
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: “What Is Domestic Violence?”
- PsychCentral: “21 Warning Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship”
- Psychology Today: “Therapy and Spiritual Abuse”
- Psychology Today: “Understanding the Dynamics of Abusive Relationships”
- Reach Out: “Sign of an Abusive Relationship”
- Study.com: “What is Psychological Abuse? – Definition & Overview”
- Teens Health: “Abusive Relationships”
- Very Well Mind: “How to Recognize Verbal Abuse and Bullying”